Last Night's TV - David Jason: the Show Must Go On!, Five; Mary, Queen of Shops, BBC2 - Reviews - TV & Radio - The Independent

Last Night's TV - David Jason: the Show Must Go On!, Five; Mary, Queen of Shops, BBC2

More than all right on the night

I'm not famous enough to get into Private Eye, but if I was, I should feel it necessary to begin the following assessment of yesterday evening with two confessions. And since I plan to be sufficiently famous for Private Eye some day soon, I shall report both of them herewith in a shameless declaration of intent, and conscious that what follows is a prime candidate for that charming column Order of the Brown Nose.

The first is that, growing up in Tooting in the 1990s, the only one of my five heroes who was a fictional character was Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, whom you will remember from Only Fools and Horses. Being a chippy south London boy, and having constructed my personality so as to compensate in exuberance for what I lacked in height, Del Boy was recommended to me as if by celestial decree.

The second is that, in the otherwise hazy years immediately after graduating from university, I was proud to answer enquiries as to my occupation with the revelation that, for an hour and a half each morning, my ugly, corpulent visage could be espied on Five, because I was the mic boy on The Wright Stuff. I was nearly famous then, too.

Solidarity being what it is, I have long felt that Five is an under-rated broadcaster, and together with my affection for all things Del Boy this predisposed me to a favourable opinion of David Jason: the Show Must Go On!, in which that wonderful actor, whose greatest creation Del Boy was, starred. In fact, the show surpassed even my highest expectations.

Its method was exceedingly simple. Take a trusted formula – famous person visits ailing small institution, promising redemption and glory – add some human drama and narrative tension; and from the outset make tangible what Frank Kermode in his 91st year still calls "the sense of an ending". It's when endings go from imminence to immanence, you see, that plots compel attention.

The Argosy Players of Hillingdon are an amateur dramatic company. Practising in the Ruislip Conservative Association, they represent a motley cross-section of lower-middle-class and upper-working-class suburbia, representatives of the two million British people, we were told, engaged in this pastime.

Jason had three weeks in which to convert these amateurs into professionals, so that they could play to a sell-out crowd at the Playhouse in London's West End. His raw material was captivating: ambitious part-timers. There was balding Sam, a school teacher who was the innovative director; good-looking Matt, a fireman used to playing leading roles who gets cast as a donkey; and cocky Samir, who thinks if local boy Dev Patel can make it into Slumdog Millionaire, so can he.

There was "full-time housewife" Yvonne, whose mum died last year, whose husband has cancer, and who is overwhelmed with emotion when creeping the boards alongside Jason; there's Paul, with multiple sclerosis, who refers to himself as a cripple; and Angus the IT manager and Carol from an RAF base, both of whom got into amateur dramatics to escape the mediocrity of their lives.

As they munched fish and chips ahead of rehearsals, and sank London Pride after, it was impossible not to warm to these spirited players, and to feel a little reassured by the existence of their association. The customary pre-finale injection of tension – will it be all right on the night? Does the lead actor have what it takes? – was a little overdone, but you had to will their success, because of Jason.

He's an avuncular-looking bloke at the best of times, but there was never any doubt over the sincerity of his commitment to these adopted children, and his own love of the stage was conveyed through images of his debut in Friern Barnet, circa 1958. He added stardust – one little girl screamed "Lovely jubbly" as he left – and his finest achievement was not the success of the performance, or the exhilaration of the actors – Yvonne's husband made it to the show after all – but his amplification of the most pleasing message of the night: the moneyed classes do not have a monopoly on theatre. The Argosy Players commanded our affection by being that glorious thing: extraordinarily ordinary.

That description would probably be deemed an insult to Mary Portas, or rather, Mary, Queen of Shops. It's rather funny how a show with ostensibly the same format as above – famous person, turnaround tale – could be so much less appealing. Half the trick is in production, I guess; but then Portas is no Jason. "I made my name in luxury and fashion retail," she said, "but now I'm heading into a whole new world" – of bakeries. That instantly deprived her of her chief claim to authority, which is what this sort of format hinges on.

And I don't know about you, but I've had enough of intrusive, faux-saviour women telling poor people how to run their lives. They promise salvation while in fact being slavishly devoted to their own advancement. No doubt Portas is an estimable lady and a sharp business brain, but she took the worst of non-doctor Gillian McKeith and Supernanny Jo Frost, added a sharp hair cut and ineffective pieces-to-camera, and cheesed me right off. "Don't do any more filming in my bakery!" screamed her chosen victim at one point, and you realised it was she who commanded our sympathies, not her putative liberator. This time, you sensed the end couldn't come soon enough.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week